“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” – Matthew 13:44
Here we have a simple parable. A man finds a treasure in a field, covers it up, sells all he has, and buys the field, buying also the treasure within. Simple though it is, this parable raises many questions. Why would someone bury treasure in a field? When he found it, was the man ethical in covering and then purchasing the field? What does the treasure represent? Interpretations have varied throughout church history. And while those are important things to consider, I’d like to summarize the answers quickly so that we can consider what I believe to be the real power of the parable.
In Jesus’s day, no one put their money in a bank. If they needed to keep it safe, they would bury it in the ground. We see this in the parable of the talents, where the man with one talent is fearful of losing it, so he buries it until the Master returns (Matthew 25:25). To find treasure in the ground would not have been surprising to Jesus’ audience. Furthermore, the man would not have been considered unethical for covering it and purchasing the field. Jewish law stated, basically, whatever you find outside someone’s house is yours—finders keepers.
Now, what is the treasure? This is the big question of the parable. What is worth so much that the man sells everything he has and, in joy, buys the field? Here in chapter 13 of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus tells parables to explain the Kingdom of God (kingdom of heaven, in Matthew’s words). Considering the context, we must force ourselves to stay inside the kingdom lines and listen to what Jesus is saying. He who has ears, let him hear (Matthew 13:9).
Jesus is telling us, in no uncertain terms, that the kingdom is very valuable. It is also, apparently, very accessible. The man who found the treasure did not travel to a faraway galaxy. He didn’t change his situation. He went about his day and, to his surprise, dug up the treasure.
Out of these seven parables of Matthew 13, four of them feature a field as their location. Coming after the sower, the weeds, and the mustard seed, Jesus must want to communicate something about the kingdom using fields. What is it? Tim Keller talks about the ordinariness of the ways of God. Just before Jesus tells these parables, he has miraculously healed people. That’s not ordinary. But when he gets to his teaching about the Kingdom of God, he puts away talk of miracles and begins speaking about ordinary things. Why? Because the normal working of God is found in the ordinary. He can work outside of that, but his normal workings are inside of everyday life.
A field is something we take for granted. We pass by them all the time, and we give almost no thought to what’s inside. The kingdom of God is like that. It’s always around but seldom on our minds. In these parables, Jesus is bringing the Kingdom of God to the forefront of our minds. He’s telling us what it’s like and how important it is.
At this point, some commentators would say the parable is about the cost of discipleship. Jesus is, after all, talking to his disciples, having left the crowds and entered a house (v. 36). I believe there is much to be said about following Jesus from this parable, but I do not believe that is Jesus’s primary concern. His focus is on the Kingdom of God. That includes discipleship, but something must happen before you give your life to Christ. You have to find something, and that’s what Jesus is telling us about here: what it’s like to find. Finding comes before life-giving. When we find a treasure like God’s Kingdom, the cost to follow becomes insignificant. This means the parable isn’t so much about what we’re willing to give up to gain the kingdom but that the kingdom is worth losing everything to gain it. That may sound the same, but in a world at war with God, coming under his rule is not like paying dues to the country club. It’s more like suffering the abuse of the world. Paul puts it this way in Philippians 3:7-8, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake, I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” Those aren’t the words of a man who lost anything. He found something worth suffering everything. This parable is not about losing. This parable is about gaining.
So, what are we to gain? When God created the world, he did not blast it from his finger and step away. He is no remote, unconcerned God. He created it with care, and he oversees it with the same care. “He upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrew 1:3). One way God reveals himself is through his creation. “His invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (Romans 1:20). Therefore, God, in creation, placed us in our home on Earth as a Father would his child in a house, where the pictures on the wall remind us of whose world we live in. We are his creation living inside his creation.
But being on the planet is no guarantee we are in the Kingdom of God. When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, they stepped outside of God’s care and into Satan’s destruction. Their eyes became dull. Their God-sense broke. They entered death and all that comes with it. Before, they walked with God in the cool of the day. After, they were banished from the Garden. From that moment on, the Kingdom was veiled from our eyes. It became hard to see the glory of God due to the darkness of sin. That’s why, when Jesus begins speaking in parables, he tells us repeatedly, “he who has ears, let him hear.”
The Kingdom of God is less about location and more about rule. Who reigns over your life? Whoever it is, that’s whose kingdom you live in. Because of this, the Kingdom of God is a kingdom that costs you everything and nothing. It costs you everything—you’re completely changed, altered from the inside out. It costs you nothing—the price has already been paid. Let me explain.
The Kingdom of God costs you everything because, when you find it, you can’t stay who you once were. Your life is radically changed. Your loves are altered. Your purpose is different. The Kingdom of God costs you nothing because Jesus paid the price to give it to you. He gave you the right to be called a child of God (John 1:12). Now, because of him, it’s your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom (Luke 12:32).
This parable has been misunderstood from time to time. Some think it’s telling us we can purchase the kingdom. They use it to preach works righteousness. That’s not what Jesus is saying. Throughout, the Bible talks about the free gift of grace (Romans 5:15). Isaiah called out to God’s people, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” (Isaiah 55:1). What Jesus accomplished on the cross was not only salvation from sin. It was also the entrance into the Father’s house. He paid the price on our behalf. All we do is stumble into it like a man digging in a field.
Gaining the Kingdom doesn’t cost us anything. Receiving the Kingdom costs us everything. And it’s a happy trade-off. Everything we’ve ever longed for is inside. In his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
Editor’s Note: This originally published at Things of the Sort.